China considering broad law to require real-name registration for its 500m+ Internet users

China considering broad law to require real-name registration for its 500m+ Internet users

It looks like there is more bad news for Internet and social media services in China as the government is considering a move to introduce real-name registration for its more than 500 million Internet users in the country, Xinhua reports (via Bill Bishop).

According to the proposal, Internet service providers and other network operators would be tasked with collecting and securing the real-name identities of its users.

“Such identity management could be conducted backstage, allowing users to use different names when publicizing information,” Li Fei, deputy director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, said on Monday. The fact that the report is published by the Xinhua news wire, one of the state’s mouthpieces, is fairly ominous since government affiliated media is often used to publicize upcoming changes. That was indeed the case in December 2011, ahead of the introduce of real-name regulation for social media.

As China has developed its Internet infrastructure, it has already been working to close down loopholes that would allow anonymity. Most vendors now require identification to purchase a SIM card, activate cellular service, or sign up for broadband service at home.

If implemented across the board, a real-name system would allow authorities to compile a comprehensive portfolio of a resident’s digital activities, across their devices, connections and social networks. Those requirements, coupled with the blocking of circumvention tools, could pose trouble for political dissidents, many of whom rely on anonymity online to evade authorities.

The regulations would have a dramatic impact on domestic social networking services. Sina Weibo, the country’s top microblogging site, has dragged its feet in putting into place real-name verification requirements, and it has even voiced fears that the government could clamp down before Weibo was ready to fully implement the system. With over 400 million registered users, Weibo is too big to be ignored by the government.

It’s still early in new Chinese head of state Xi Jinping’s tenure, but so far it looks like loosening restrictions on the Internet are not at the top of his list. In recent weeks, the government has obstructed pathways normally used by foreign VPN services for dodging censorship restrictions. During the transition where Xi took power last month, the Chinese Internet slowed to a crawl.

“I have lived in Beijing since 2005, and these have been the most draconian few days of Internet restrictions I have experienced,” Bishop said at the time.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is moving forward with plans to require real-name registration for app developers publishing on application stores in China, which will themselves receive new regulations. The proposed regulations pre-date Xi’s ascendence, but they look set to come into effect under his watch.

Image credit: Ed Jones / AFP / Getty Images


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